The Cavs and The Cav Nots; The Tragedy of David Blatt
One of the fondly remembered sitcoms of the 1990's, The Drew Carey Show would sometimes open with a title sequence featuring the entire cast declaring out loud that "Cleveland Rocks".
For David Blatt, head coach of the city's long suffering basketball franchise, the Cavaliers, on Friday afternoon, it certainly didn't.
Despite a 30-11 mark that topped the Eastern Conference exactly midway through their regular season, Blatt found himself unemployed, fired from the Cavs after a year and a half. While short, Blatt's tenure was eventful, with his lone summer with the team concluding with a trip to the NBA Finals, a six-game defeat at the hands of the Golden State Warriors.
Over the next few days, the tinfoil hat community that is NBA fans will look deep into the potential conspiracy theories behind Blatt's sudden ousting, which came as suddenly as the Jacobs Field midges during Game 2 of the 2007 ALDS. Some will immediately point to superstar LeBron James as the culprit (or, in some Cavs' fans eyes, the savior) behind the firing, for example. But all the theories, all the finger pointing hides a sad, but honest, truth.
Blatt was doomed the minute he accepted the Cavs job.
Not every rookie coach is going to end up like Blatt and Steve Kerr, the Finals participants last season who just happened to be in their first year manning an NBA sideline. For every Kerr/Blatt, there's a Mike Dunlap or Sam Vincent, two coaches of the franchise formerly known as the Charlotte Bobcats, who were both dumped after one year.
A first-year head coach, no matter the sport, is one of the most bi-polar positions in sports. You're showered with praise upon your entry, but one wrong move, one tough loss, and you're burned in effigy on talk radio. Nonetheless, there is a certain degree of patience when it comes to new head coaches. On paper, a result like an early playoff exit may seem heartbreaking, but for a new coach, it's part of a championship process. Gregg Popovich, for example, won 17 games in his first year at the San Antonio helm, and then took a step forward with a conference semifinals trip the next year. The next year, the Spurs were champions.
Blatt, however, was never afforded such luxury.
A Princeton graduate, Blatt has spent every year of his life since 1977 around basketball...however, until 2014, not one of those was spent with an NBA franchise. Blatt made a considerable name in European and Israeli basketball, as both a coach and a player. It's a respectable way to make a name for yourself, no doubt.
But the spotlight of not just the NBA, but the spotlight of the dawn of The Mr. James Goes to Cleveland, Part II era was the kind of burden that a grizzled NBA veteran would have difficulty with, never mind one who had never been involved in an NBA game in his life.
Yet, here was Blatt, leading the revitalized Cavs.
LeBron was not the only "new" name on the Cleveland roster. Superstar Kevin Love was finally freed from basketball purgatory known as Minnesota, joining James in the quest for a ring. The price for Love was steep. Gone were Cleveland's back-to-back top overall picks, as Anthony Bennett and Andrew Wiggins were sent to the Timberwolves, the latter being dealt before he ever played an NBA minute. As the season progressed, veteran help came in the form of Timofey Mozgov, JR Smith and Iman Shumpert.
In case you didn't get the message, Blatt heard loud and clear...win now or else.
Signs of Blatt slightly losing his grip on the team were eminent as early as the run to the Finals last season. In the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Chicago Bulls, Blatt not only saw control literally wrenched away from him by James (who ended up changing a play where he would inbound the ball in the final seconds of Game 4 to one where he ended up sinking the game winning shot) but an incident where Blatt to pull a Chris Webber, calling a timeout when his team had none. In the latter incident, he was fortunate enough that the refs didn't see him, but impossible to hide was James's numerous statements throughout the 2015-16 season, saying Cleveland had to toughen up. And now, mere days, after the Cavs suffered a humiliating loss at home to a familiar adversary...Golden State...Blatt is gone, his former employer so desperate to depart from him that they signed his assistant Tyron Lue to a multi-year deal immediately.
David Blatt may yet find himself leading another NBA team into battle someday...potential openings in places like Phoenix and Charlotte may arise soon...but for now, it's difficult to analyze his year and a half stay in Cleveland. Too rewarding to be called a failure, too disappointing to be called a success, Blatt is the first coach ever to be fired with his team leading the conference. Blatt obviously knows the game of basketball. He's one of the most decored names in the histroy of European and Israeli basketball, and with a year and a half of NBA experience under his belt, has only increased his basketball IQ. They say patience is a virtue...hopefully Blatt's next employer remembers that.
Geoff Magliocchetti is a 2x NBA Champion coach...in the virtual world of his NBA 2K franchise. Ask him about his trial and tribulations on Twitter @GeoffMags5490
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